D'oh! Time's Anti-Death Penalty Cover Boy Proven Guilty By DNA Test

Way back in 1992 Roger Keith Coleman was Time magazine’s cover boy against the death penalty. Time ran the following over a photo of Coleman in chains: "This Man Might Be Innocent, This Man Is Due To Die." Fast forward to 2006 and DNA tests have proved Coleman was in fact rightfully convicted of raping and killing his 19-year-old sister-in-law. So far Time hasn’t touched the story in its online edition. As this morning’s Washington Post reports the DNA test results have hit anti-death penalty advocates hard: "The results stunned and disappointed those who have fought a 25-year crusade to prove that Roger K. Coleman was innocent. They also dashed hopes among death penalty foes that the case would catalyze opposition to capital punishment across the country."

In the May 18th, 1992 edition of Time reporter Jill Smolowe wrote breathlessly about how the legal system was failing this supposed innocent man.Inside the pages of Time the headline read: "Must This Man Die? Roger Keith Coleman says he didn’t kill anybody, but the courts are tired of listening. That could be a tragic mistake." Right after Smolowe's byline Time hit stressed the solemnity of the story with this old quote: "Our procedure has been always haunted by the ghost of the innocent man convicted. It is an unreal dream."- Judge Learned Hand, 1923.

Smolowe’s article is full of such hand-wringing statements like: "If in essence, Coleman’s supporters have sought to stage a new trial through the press, the tactic is understandable: the courts have so far failed miserably. It is quite possible he will die, the victim of a justice system so bent on streamlining procedures and clearing dockets that the question of whether or not he actually murdered Wanda McCoy has become a subsidiary consideration." Smolowe added: "It was never supposed to work this way. Back in 1976 when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, it signaled in a series of decisions that utmost vigilance must be applied in capital cases....But under Chief Justice William Rehnquists’s leadership, the Supreme Court seems more concerned with finality than fairness."

The rest of the article presents the defense's case offering various alibis. Smolowe even goes as far to play the poverty sympathy card: "An experienced defense team might have poked holes through the prosecution’s case. But Coleman was a poor coal miner, with no spare cash to hire an attorney."

In 1992 Time went to bat for this murderer, the question is will they report how wrong they were in next week’s print edition. We’ll be waiting.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.